I have to come straight out with it….. “This is the best book I have read this year”. In fact I think it is possibly one of the best book I have ever read. There I’ve said it!
This is a book I have studiously avoided reading for a long time. I made a very misguided decision early on that it was not something I would want to read. I thought it would be too disturbing, too sad and overall too difficult a subject matter. How very wrong was I. I am struggling to write this review, firstly because all I want to say in a disturbingly bossy and possibly shouty manner is ‘READ IT’ (repeatedly), and secondly because I can’t see how my few inadequate words here can possibly do justice to such a deeply moving book.
However, this is a book review so I will do what I can. Room is the story of Jack and his Ma. Jack is born and spends the first 5 years of his life locked in a room with no awareness of the outside world. Consequently ‘room’ becomes Jacks world. Everything in the room takes on a personality as his Ma has created characters out of everything; ‘meltedy spoon’, ‘rug’, ‘plant’. They have a TV and Jack loves Dora the Explora although he isn’t allowed to watch too much as it turns his brain ‘mush’. He has a few toys and 5 books with pictures. His Ma has a tremendous imagination and creativity and turns everything into a game. They sing songs, play games and have ‘phys ed’ where they do ‘track’ by running up and down the room. This unique form of home schooling means that Jack has a grasp of language that is probably beyond many 5 year olds.
There comes a crucial point in the story when things in Jacks world change dramatically. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book but suffice to say this turbulent part of the story, full of drama and suspense is handled with great care . The story is told in Jacks unique voice which I felt Elizabeth Donogue pitched perfectly. He is understandably quirky but has just the right amount of cheekiness and on occasion naughtiness that you would expect from a 5 year old. This could so easily be a story of tragedy but it really isn’t. It’s a story of fortitude, the indomitable human spirit, bravery and survival. Because this is Jacks story told in Jacks voice it contains warmth and even joy.
Whole commutes flew by whilst I was reading this. I would look up and realise I had passed through 4-5 stations without any awareness that the train had even stopped. I knew that finishing this book would leave me feeling a little bereft – and it did. I miss Jack. I miss his voice and perspective on the world. Reading this book is like going on a journey into the world for the first time with a wonderfully inquisitive, wise and funny 5 year old as your guide. Every day is an adventure packed with wonder and new discoveries.
I read an interview recently that Elizabeth Donoghue had given on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book Programme. In it she was asked ‘how would Jack be doing now?’. She replied that ‘he would be doing just fine’. I think I would have to agree.
So, there is nothing more I can say other than, if you have never read this book, do so, preferably now. If you have read it, tell anyone else that hasn’t that they should!